By Cole Parkinson
The legalization of marijuana seems to be on the horizon for Canada and that means school boards across the country are gearing up for potential changes to their policies.
The Horizon School Board had a chance to start up their first talks about the potential changes at their regular meeting on Oct. 25 and talks surrounded the legislation that will follow legalization.
A big question the board had was how to handle 18 year old students who were legally able to carry cannabis on them.
“The dilemma becomes if you’re 18, it brings it into a school environment. If there is no policy, they can have it in their possession, they can consume. There will certainly be legislation that talks about can you have it in your possession and can you smoke it in the vicinity of a school. When you look at alcohol for example it’s 18 for alcohol but you can’t walk into the building or walk publicly carrying an open bottle of alcohol and drink it, you can’t come to work drunk. There are still expectations that will come into play around the notion of cannabis and the possession and use of it for employees and students. We’ll certainly need to clarify some of those factors,” said Wilco Tymensen, superintendent of Horizon School Division.
The board was also concerned with the possibility of cannabis being likened to cigarettes in terms of the ability to legally bring them into the school.
“When you say it’s similar to cigarettes, if I’m 18 I can have a cigarette pack in my backpack or back pocket and walk into the school, it’s completely legal. So that’s the issue, right, so if I’m 18 I can go a block away, smoke all (the marijuana) I want and come into the school and be under the influence.”
While it isn’t legal currently, the board was aware of the high possibility kids were coming into the school after smoking marijuana currently.
“It’s probably happening right now,” said Derek Barons, Horizon board member.
While the division has a policy in place for substances already, with legalization, things will have to be adjusted.
Because none of it has been passed yet, the school board is left guessing with what may happen and how they will proceed.
“What we’ll have to do is have a process. For an example right now, we already have a policy on illicit substances. In other words, if somebody is standing off of school property selling drugs and they are a student, you can provide disciplinary action even though they are not on school grounds. So those kind of practices will need to be clarified because when we talk about illicit substances it is illegal substances. This simply means that it’s not illegal for all kids and so we will have to clarify what that means,” said Tymensen. “I know that they are already looking at having some legal workshops for school divisions for senior administration around policy development. I believe the ASBA (Alberta School Board Association) will be working on that as well as some policy directions that are happening at the provincial level this spring. It certainly isn’t finalized but we’ll want to make sure that something is in place for next June.”
With confusion around the impending legalization, another question brought up by the board was the use of medical marijuana in the school.
The inquiry was in regard to whether or not students and potentially staff would be able to smoke medical marijuana within the school because of conditions that require the treatment.
“That’s the question of what is the legal implications of that. You can certainly have an implication of saying as an employee you may have a policy in place saying you can’t light up in the middle of a classroom. That’s the conversation, do you have the ability to challenge and what does the law say?” said Tymensen. “Working from, what I’ll say is, a ‘blind’ perspective where we think this is the right thing to do and we’re going to do it. Certainly what we’re looking at is what are the legal requirements and what are the legal implications so what is the legal opinion? That policy, our intent will be to make sure that we go through our legal process and legal council so that we don’t challenge and get into a huge court case where legally they will say you’re going to lose.”
Legalization of cannabis in Canada looks to come full circle by July of next year which leaves the Horizon School board with plenty of decisions to make before that comes.
While the date is fast approaching, the board isn’t in any rush to get policies in place as they want to make sure what they put in place is what’s best for everyone involved.
“We have some work cut out for us, I’m not in a hurry so to speak to draft policy. I’m waiting for the government to come out first and a collection of school divisions to come together to work collectively on this,” said Tymensen.
The board decided to pick up the discussion again after the Christmas break.